Can You Go Remote without Losing Control?

By Natalie Romano, MBA, PMP

One of the greatest challenges facing the contact centers today is employee retention. With the cost of training sometimes exceeding $10,000 per agent, it is little wonder that the issue of retention keeps numerous contact center managers up at night.

For many organizations, the ability to offer employees remote or agent at home opportunities – with flexible hours, part-time work, and the chance to telework – is a great tool for recruiting and retaining skilled, reliable agents.

Many call centers are already realizing the significant upside of this model. Organizations that have created an infrastructure for remote agents typically report savings anywhere from 25 to 90 percent on corporate real estate costs alone. Plus, turning commute time into additional work or family time increases productivity and improves employee satisfaction. This is particularly critical as transportation costs continue to rise, creating more pressure than ever for employees to minimize commute times.

There is little doubt: the home agent model can increase the talent pool and improve retention. The flexibility of working at home expands the pool of potential agents to include persons previously unavailable due to limited mobility, limited hours of availability, family situations, or geographic location.

There are many reasons for a call center to hire remote or at-home agents. But some organizations continue to worry that managing agents at home will mean a loss of visibility and control over staff, and not without reason. How do you manage staff distributed all over the city, or, in some cases, dispersed nationwide or even globally?

Thanks to new technologies and services for the contact center, a highly distributed staff can be managed just like personnel down the hall. For many organizations, the hurdle of moving to a remote agent model is quickly overcome when they work with vendors who are able to supply real-time, graphical management displays of agent productivity and contact volumes.

The ability to provide a snapshot of the call center that allows management to view customized performance statistics for increased responsiveness to changing conditions – no matter where call center agents are located – is critical. Managers can also access complete, customizable reports and call tracking, ensuring they have the valuable data they need to make business decisions.

The ability to provide work-at-home agents with the same robust call center functionality that local agents are accustomed to, while at the same time managing this staff closely through real-time visibility, is paying huge dividends. With a point-and-click, browser-based management tool, supervisors are able to obtain comprehensive reporting that accurately manages and tracks agent performance, resource utilization, and trends. Both real-time and historical reporting can help organizations to adjust staffing levels during peak periods and forecast staffing requirements and human resource needs over the long term.

Take the example of an organization that needed a way to monitor and manage the performance of its distributed call centers and home-based teleworking staff. Today, their agents can interact as if they were collocated through real-time displays that provide managers with customized reports based on the information required. These real-time displays can also help keep the agents themselves from being surprised by a backed-up queue. They can see the queue in real-time, giving them an unprecedented grasp of who is calling and how many calls are waiting.

These real-time displays allow managers to quickly identify trouble spots and reroute calls in a matter of minutes if necessary. Managers can also monitor agent calls in real time to assist with troubleshooting and ensure high productivity.

Today, remote agents can be just as productive at home as they are in the office. With a management tool in place, organizations are free to reap the rewards of personnel retention and cost reduction without fearing a loss of control.

Natalie Romano is the consulting leader for Nortel’s Contact Center Services, part of the Nortel Global Services portfolio. Her extensive expertise in designing, implementing, and optimizing contact center technology and operations around the globe has made her a trusted advisor to some of the world’s largest banking, utility, transportation, healthcare, and services organizations. Natalie has implemented more than fifty Nortel Contact Center Solutions over the course of her career.

[From Connection Magazine October 2008]

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